TN Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (UCEDD) Offers Free Workshops to Parents of Young Children With ASD

February 15, 2013

"When you first collect yourself off the floor from finding out that your child has autism, you are in a panic. You find yourself wanting or just needing to do everything that you can for your child. Then you find out how much that costs which makes you cry and start to scramble.You feel very alone, helpless and scared because as the Mom you are the one who is supposed to have all the answers." -Families First participant and mother of child with autism

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN-UCEDD) Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) recognizes that parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder may need help as they begin navigating disability service systems and supporting their children in reaching their full potential. One way TRIAD supports families of young children is through the parent training program Families First.

Developed for parents of young children, ages 2-5, Families First is a free of charge series of monthly workshops that provide specific instruction on topics that families have identified as being important to them. Addressing challenging behaviors and toilet training are the two most requested topics. Additional topics include: enhancing social and communication skills, structuring routines, safety, and making community outings. 2013 also brings workshops on play skills, feeding and sleep, inclusion in faith communities, and preparing for the holidays. Strategies are applicable in home, school, and in community settings and are based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). "We try to give parents and caregivers a base understanding of strategies and information that they can then take back to their family members, therapists, teachers, and communities to think about how to individualize those strategies to best work for their child," said Whitney Loring, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Families First coordinator. "We also want participants to have an opportunity to meet other families that may be struggling with some of the same types of challenges. We set the workshops up in a way that allows them to interact and develop networks. We do that through group work and through creating opportunities to encourage conversation with the people around them."

The success of the program has encouraged the Families First team to explore the potential for expansion by piloting workshops in other parts of the state, and by implementing a model for training staff in other VKC programs to deliver strategies to the families with whom they work. The potential of online modules or webinars also is being explored. "We get a lot of great feedback from parents," said Loring. "It is a natural next step for us to explore how we can reach out to more families to get them the information they need to feel up to some of the challenges. So often, parents feel alone or overwhelmed when they first receive a diagnosis, and it's great to remind them that they are the true experts when it comes to their own children. We are here to provide them with strategies, but ultimately, we are here to support them in the work that they do so well." For additional information about Families First or programs at TRIAD, please contact (615) 322-7565, toll-free 1-877-ASD-VUMC (273-8862), autismresources@vanderbilt.edu.